Jamie wandered down the halls of the American military base in London, her pigtails bopping along in rhythm with her steps as she walked, and she kept her nose firmly planted in her new book, Norse Gods: Real or Not Real?
As she walked, there were many times she almost unknowingly walked into people due to her not paying attention to her surroundings, and people had to jump out of her way. The military personnel were somewhat irritated by the ten-year-old girl's obliviousness to the world, but they couldn't say anything about it to her. They were simply secretaries, and she was their superior officer, a First Lieutenant, third in rank after Colonel Chester Phillips and the newly ranked Captain Steven Rogers.
When Jamie had initially received the news of her new rank in the army, she had been somewhat disappointed. She'd done just as much as Steve while in the Hydra factory, but he was given a higher ranking than her. She may have just been a kid, but she felt she was entitled to be slightly offended by that. Still, the Colonel was already pulling enough strings just to allow her, a little ten-year-old girl, to be allowed to fight in the army. He had the power to do that, but he put his foot down on giving Jamie too much leeway over directing troops. She may be a genetically enhanced child super-soldier, but she was still technically a child. He could not give Jamie the same ranking of Captain to her as he had to Steve, so he made her Steve's Lieutenant instead.
She actually really liked the new uniform she was currently wearing as she flipped the page in her book, looking up for only half-a-second to make sure she was still walking in the direction of the main room of the base before continuing her readings about the Norse God, Thor, and his mystical hammer of Mjolnir. She wore a dark brown blazer similar to what Agent Carter always wore with the silver bar of her ranking sewn on the front, and a matching knee-length brown skirt. The only main difference between her tiny uniform and the standard Lieutenant uniform that the other women in the army wore apart from its obvious difference in size was that she wore a pair of black flats instead of a set of heels because of her age.
She was currently looking for Steve to show off her new book to him, having just gotten back from walking to the bookstore on the corner. She wanted to hear what he had to say on her newfound topic of interest.
As she'd guessed, she found him in the main room of the base, sifting over a large map of Europe as he jotted down the coordinates to the locations of the Hydra factories they'd both seen on the map back at the Hydra base. She shut her new book with a snap when she found them.
"Steve! Agent Carter!" she called cheerily, running into the room so as to properly greet them.
Her mentor and said woman looked up, very much surprised to see her.
"J.J.!" said Steve, his eyes wide. "What're you doing here? Don't you have lessons with your private tutor today?"
"I talked my way into letting him give me a hour-an-a-half break," she replied with a smile. "I just got back from the bookstore down the street. Look what I bought!" she held up the book on Norse God's for them to see.
"Norse Gods: Real or Not Real?" Steve read. "Looks interesting, but why'd you buy that? I'd have thought you'd want to get something more generated towards kids. You like The Wizard of Oz, after all."
"I only had so much money," she explained. "And remember what Doctor Erskine said? That the Red Skull is focused on trying to make himself on par with Norse Gods? I thought it'd be good to try and see what makes him tick! So far, all I've found out is that the Red Skull is totally crazy! This one God, Thor? He's the God of Thunder! He wields this big mighty hammer called Mjolnir and makes lightning shoot out of it, and he's the first in line to rule the mystical land of Asgard since his Dad's Odin, and Odin's the All-Father of all of Asgard! He has a half-brother called Loki, The God of Mischief, and he was adopted by Odin from the Frost Giants! It's all so, so cool!"
"It certainly does sound cool," Steve agreed, gently patting her head.
"Even though I bought it to try and get in the Red Skull's head, I have to admit that I really am genuinely interested in these Norse God's!" she exclaimed. "If they were really real, they'd be super hero's like us, Steve! Though I must say, if the Red Skull thinks he's just like them, he's more insane than I thought he was!"
"Oh, he is," Steve agreed at once. "He most definitely is."
"Anyway, what are you and Agent Carter doing?"
"Steve was just telling us about that map you two saw back in the factory," Agent Carter explained. "He was trying to remember all the points on it and marking them down on our maps."
"Oh! I can help! I saw that map, too, you know!"
She set down her book on the edge of the table, and peered over the large map splayed out in front of her as Steve continued reeling off the places they'd seen on the Hydra map as he marked them down on the map here at the American base.
"The fifth one was here in Poland, right near the Baltic," he muttered, taking a pen and making an 'X' on the map. "And… the sixth one was…"
"The sixth one was over here!" Jamie chimed in. She took the pen away from Steve and jotted an 'X' of her own onto the map. "I'd say about… thirty or forty miles west of the Maginot Line."
"Thank you, Jamie," said Steve, ruffling her hair in appreciation as a nearby army official took the map away now that the last factory had been added in, and began adding them onto the large official map in the exact center of the room. She beamed up at him as he turned back to face Agent Carter. "We just got a quick look." He made sure to state.
She shrugged, but nonetheless smiled to the new Captain and new Lieutenant. "Well, nobody's perfect," she said.
Steve and Jamie smiled at her, and were about to follow her away from the table, when Howard strolled up to them.
"Hi, Howie!" said Jamie pleasantly.
"Hey," he said with a raised brow. "Aren't you and the Captain here supposed to be picking up a couple of medals right now?"
He was technically right. When Senator Brandt had learned about Steve and Jamie's heroic rescue of four hundred Allied soldiers from the Hydra weapons factory in Austria, he had successfully petitioned for Captain America and Liberty Belle to both receive the Medals of Valor. They were both supposed to have only come to London for two days to make notes on the location of the other Hydra factories before hightailing it Washington D.C. to attend the award ceremony. However, Senator Brandt's assistant was the only one out of the party to board the steamship yesterday that was bound back home to America. Steve and Jamie had decided to stay in London, and help with the war, and because Jamie was staying, her tutor had to stay, too.
"Jamie and I have both decided we're officially off the press circuit," Steve calmly answered.
"That's right!" Jamie chirped with a happy smile as Colonel Phillips came walking up to the group with his hands clasped behind his back. "Steve and I are going to stay! We want to help the SSR stop the Red Skull, and all of Hydra!"
The Colonel frowned. "Rogers, Harper, you two just embarrassed the United States Senator in front of a room full of reporters and ten members of Parliament."
Steve and Jamie both grimaced. They hadn't thought about that when they decided not to return to America and attend the award ceremony.
Colonel Phillips went on, actually smiling this time as he tried to fight back a laugh. "You two deserve medals just for that!"
He pulled his arms out from behind his back, revealing two sleek black cases with the gold and shiny medals inside, and handed them over to Steve and Jamie.
"Steve, we really should make a phone call later on and apologize to Senator Brandt," Jamie said. "I know we decided to stay here and help with the war, but he was nice to us these past couple months and we really shouldn't have embarrassed him like that!"
"Yeah, you're right, J.J.," Steve agreed. "I'll find a phone later and formally apologize."
The Colonel turned to face Howard, and glanced down at the small blue cartridge in his hands. It was the same one that Steve swiped while he and Jamie had infiltrated the Hydra factory. "You figure out what that is, yet?" he asked.
"Well," said Howard, holding up the cartridge as he spoke. "If you believe Rogers and little Jamie here, it's the most powerful explosive known to man."
"If?" said Steve, puzzled.
"Well either you and Jamie are wrong," said Howard slowly, "or Schmidt's rewritten the laws of physics."
"Or it's being powered by the Tesseract."
All three adults glanced down at Jamie, not knowing at all what it was she just suggested.
"What?" said Colonel Phillips.
"Doctor Erskine told me and Steve that Schmidt thinks he's just as powerful as Norse Gods, that's why I went out and bought this book today." She held up the book to show it to him and Howard. "I just wanted to know about what types of Gods he's comparing himself to, but this book also talks about this really interesting artifact that was lost on earth years and years ago. Take a look for yourselves."
She flipped through the pages of the book to find the page she was looking for, and then passed the book up to Phillips. All four adults crowded around to see. According to the book, the Tesseract was an ancient remnant of the Norse Gods, otherwise known as Asguardians, which according to legend, had been lost on earth many millennia ago. It was one of six singularities — the other five were not mentioned — that were each forged when the universe came into existence. It had been used in olden days by various civilizations over the years before being deemed lost on earth long ago.
"The book says that it's a Cosmic Cube of immense power," Jamie went on once the Colonel gave her back her book. "What if the Red Skull actually found it? It makes sense, don't you think? All those weapons that Hydra develops? What if they're all being powered by the Tesseract? It makes perfect sense!"
"It's just a legend, Harper," said the Colonel firmly. "I highly doubt that that's the case."
Jamie pouted and stuck out her lip a little bit, but held her tongue. Colonel Phillips was her commanding officer. She could not argue with him. The only reason she even got away with screaming at him a couple days ago before she and Steve took off to the Hydra factory was because the Colonel was willing to forgive her due to the fact that she was just a child and had just been told that the army hadn't been able to find her to inform her of Trent's disappearance. That was a one-time deal, though. If she wanted to be respected as a child super-soldier, she'd have to act mature.
"Yes, sir," she said with a sad nod.
The adults smiled. They were pleased to see that she wasn't going to push the issue. Steve motioned for Phillips to follow him and Jamie over to the large map in the center of the room, as the private from before had finished copying the tiny chart he and Jamie had marked the places for the Hydra factories onto it.
"These are the Hydra factories that we know about," he explained as Howard walked off. "Sergeant Barnes and Sergeant Harper said that Hydra shipped all the parts to another facility that isn't on this map."
"They also talked about something called Valkyrie," Jamie added. "They mentioned that it's some type of highly advanced aircraft that Hydra's been busy constructing."
Colonel Phillips nodded in understanding and turned to face Agent Carter.
"Agent Carter, coordinate with MI6. I want every allied eyeball looking for that main Hydra base."
"What about us?" she asked.
"We are going to set a fire under Johann Schmidt's ass."
Jamie pursed her lips at hearing the swear, but did not dare to criticize the Colonel at his use of it.
"What do you two say, Rogers, Harper?" He continued, now addressing Steve and Jamie. "It's your map. You two think you can wipe Hydra off it?"
"Yes, sir," said Jamie.
"We'll need a team," said Steve.
The Colonel nodded as he began perusing a file that he'd been handed by another blonde woman. "We're already putting together the best men," he said.
"With all due respect, sir," said Steve cautiously, "so are we."
Colonel Phillips looked up in interest at Steve's words, but before he could question Steve by what he meant by that, he was distracted by someone calling out his name.
"Sir? Colonel Phillips?" came a young man's voice.
The group turned. Trent was hobbling into the room on his crutches. Upon return to the army camp a few days prior to coming to London, Trent had immediately been hurried into the Medical Tent by the doctors and nurses on staff at the camp and had begun treating his right leg. They'd cleaned and stitched up the gash that Steve had hurriedly treated back at the factory, and gave him some medicine for pain as well as antibiotics to deal with the infection and the cold he'd developed over his long months of capture. It was a surprise to see him up and about, because he'd been instructed to remain in the bed in the infirmary for at least another week until the stitches in his leg could be removed and his fever went down. Indeed, just from making the short walk to here from the infirmary had him grunting in pain, and his entire face was a bit red from his fever.
"Trentie!" shouted Jamie happily. She bolted away from Steve and the other adults, and crossed the room to tackle Trent in a hug.
Trent nearly lost his balance with his crutches from the force of her tackle. "Whoa! James, careful!" he said. "I'm on crutches right now, remember?"
She poked her head out from his uniform and gave him a sheepish grin. "Sorry, big bro. I'm just still so happy to be with you again! You have no idea how worried I've been about you these past few months."
"Likewise with me about you," he replied. "But may I just say, I really wasn't expecting to see you in here right now. Didn't you tell me earlier that you have private lessons with a tutor while here on base?"
"I'm on break. I just got back to the bookstore. I bought this cool book on Norse mythology, but I'll show it to you later, because the real question is what're you doing here? You're supposed to be on bed rest!"
"I have a matter to discuss with Colonel Phillips."
"Okay! Colonel Phillips! My brother—"
"Wants you to go back to your tutor," Trent interjected.
The adults exchanged subtle looks. It seemed that whatever it was Trent wanted to discuss with Colonel Phillips, he did not want Jamie to hear.
"It's not for your ears, Jamie," said Trent firmly.
"But I've hardly spent any time with you since your rescue a few days ago!" She whined sadly. She wasn't stupid. She knew her brother well enough to know that he was acting suspiciously. "I wanted to play with you later!"
"It's all right, J.J.," Steve cut it, trying to help. "You and I were planning that thing later on tonight, remember? Trent was included in that mix."
"Oh, that thing!" she said knowingly and with a giggle.
"What thing?" said Trent.
"You'll find out tonight!" Jamie said firmly and with no room for argument.
Trent did his best to shrug since he was still using his crutches to keep standing. "Whatever. Anyone, get on back to your lessons, Jamie. Whatever it is you and Rogers are planning, I'll apparently be there and we can talk more then."
"Fine," she said begrudgingly. She stood up on her tiptoes, and planted a kiss on his cheek. "See you later then, Trent. Love you!" Then she turned and grabbed her book, and waved goodbye to Steve, Agent Carter, and Colonel Phillips before turning around, and exiting the room.
But Jamie did not go back to her tutor. Instead, she hovered by the wall just out of sight of the doorway. She knew eavesdropping was rude, but it was somewhat of a habit of hers for years now. She wanted to know what was going on. She may be Trent's little sister, but she was also a First Lieutenant now and the child super-soldier Liberty Belle. She had the right to know what was going on.
The adults, completely unaware of the fact that she was listening in, all turned to face Trent.
"What is it you want to discuss, Sergeant Harper?" asked Colonel Phillips.
"Before I begin, do you mind if I sit down, sir? It's not easy standing up for long stretches on my crutches."
Phillips nodded, and motioned for a nearby private to bring over two chairs. One for Trent to sit on, and the other to prop his leg up on and keep it elevated. As soon as he was comfortable, Trent looked Phillips right in the eye.
"Before I say what I came here to say, sir, I humbly request that you overlook the fact that you're my superior officer, because when I say what I've been rehearsing to say these past few days to you, I'm not sure if it is appropriate for a Sergeant to be asking a Colonel, but it is appropriate considering I'm an older brother and you are currently the one who's in charge of my younger sister's daily schedule."
Colonel Phillips blinked. It wasn't every day that someone asked him to put aside the fact that he was the Colonel and wished to speak freely to him without fear of repercussions of having said something out of turn. Sure, people wished to do so, but it was very rare that someone gathered the courage to actually ask it. Even Steve and Agent Carter were surprised by Trent's words.
Beyond the door, Jamie listened with rapt attention. She had no idea what Trent could want. If he wanted something, couldn't he have just asked while she was still in the room?
"Your words are noted," replied the Colonel carefully.
Trent nodded. He took a deep breath as he gathered his courage, and then announced his request quite abruptly.
"I want you to send my sister back home to America."
There was a long silence inside the room.
Out in the hallway, Jamie's jaw had dropped, and she had to fight the urge to march back inside and scream. She didn't care what his reasons were for wanting her to go home, but she was furious by it. The only thing that kept her from running in was knowing that she'd just look foolish and immature if she were to go in and start screaming. No, she'd stay silent and just listen.
Back in the room, Colonel Phillips, Agent Carter, and Steve all stared at Trent.
"Son," said Colonel Phillips, "I understand you're worried about Lieutenant Harper, but—"
"With all due respect sir, and forgive me for interrupting you, but I do not think you understand at all," Trent calmly deflected. "Are any of you married? Do you have kids of your own, or at the very least any little brothers or sisters?"
There was a brief pause as the adults exchanged looks, but they all shook their head after a few moments.
"Didn't think so, and because of that, I do not think any of you can ever fully understand how much I love my little sister, or how much she means to me. I understand that we're currently in the middle of a war. I understand that. What I don't understand is why you needed to pick her — my only sister — to be this child super-soldier otherwise known as Liberty Belle. Jamie explained to me earlier that she and a bunch of other kids from the orphanage were plucked out of the place by you people and went through a series of trials as you decided on whom to pick to become that super-child. Now, I'm going to ignore the fact that I personally think that you forcing children to become soldiers is very, very wrong. Instead, what I'm going to ask is why. Why her? Why did you pick her? There were plenty of other kids in that orphanage, and she's not technically a real orphan. I'm her older brother and her legal guardian. She was only living there as an extended guest because the government dictated she had to go somewhere when I was drafted and I had no one to take care of her in the meantime. So, why her?"
Colonel Phillips sighed. "You need to understand, Sergeant Harper, that your sister being chosen to become the child super-soldier was not my idea."
"What do you mean?"
"If it had been up to me at the time, your sister would have stayed in the orphanage the day myself and Agent Carter went to it and selected kids we thought had the potential to be a good child soldier. It was not my decision to select her. She's a bit younger than what I wanted. I wanted kids that were at least twelve, if not a bit older."
Trent turned to Agent Carter. "Then you picked her?"
Agent Carter shook her head. "No, I was not the one to pick your sister. The one who chose her was Doctor Erskine."
"He's the one who developed the serums that made Jamie and myself into superior beings," Steve explained.
"Well, then where is this Doctor Erskine? I want to talk to him."
"He was assassinated by a Hydra spy just minutes after the experiment we both underwent was completed."
Trent paused as he considered Steve's words.
"I've read the letter's Jamie's been writing to me but I never received because I was captured," he said, looking Steve right in the eye as he spoke. "I've read the letters. My sister adores you. You're her hero in her eyes. So, I'm going to ask you to be the hero she needs right now and support what I'm saying! Jamie is ten-years-old! She's a child! A little girl! She should not be out on the battlefield! If you really need this Liberty Belle character as an iconic image, then at the very least have her keeping doing those promotional tours she mentioned! No one will try to kill her if she's just performing on a stage!"
Jamie was actually growing very offended. How could Trent have such little faith in her?
"I know we are currently fighting a losing war. I know that, but Rogers, you're Captain America. You're genetically enhanced just like she is, and what's more, you're an adult. You can do just fine without her here. So I'll say it again: Jamie is a little girl. I'm asking — no — begging all of you to let my little sister go home. I know firsthand that war breaks people! I'm not just talking physically here! I mean emotionally! If you all think that you know Jamie as well as you think you do, then you know she's a sensitive girl. You know I'm right. I know I'm right, because I know my sister. I know she means well and her heart is in the right place for wanting to help you guys, but… she can't handle the reality war. I'm afraid that if she stays and… and God forbid something really bad happens… she'll snap and shut down! I know it! I know her! I know that's what'll happen!
"So please! I'll do whatever you want me to do. I'll fight any battle you ask of me and I'll lay down my life for this country. You want to punish me, Colonel, for saying all this to you? Go right ahead! But please! Please! Let Jamie go home! Let her go home and live her life! Let her live!"
For a while, nobody spoke. The adults could see Trent's point and where he was coming from. But unfortunately, they could not agree to it.
"Sergeant Harper," said Colonel Phillips finally, "I understand your reluctance to allow Lieutenant Harper to remain in the military, and I see your point of view. But she's a valuable asset to us winning this war. We need to keep her here."
"Sir, with all due respect, Colonel — with all possible respect I can give — do you really? I personally believe Captain Rogers can manage quite well on his own against Hydra. She's just the sidekick, after all."
"Sergeant Harper, I can guarantee you that her safety on the battlefield will be one of our top priorities."
"With respect, sir, you actually can't guarantee me that. People die out there everyday. I do not want my sister to die. I'm her legal guardian, and as her legal guardian, I'm formally requesting that you send her back home."
"Sergeant Harper, I cannot do that."
"But as her only living family member, I have the power to—"
"Sergeant Harper, the moment you were drafted, your sister became a ward of the state of New York, and that thereby placed her in the care of the United States government. When we were given clearance to take her and those other children from the orphanage, her wellbeing was transferred to being in the care of the United States Army. As of right now, you are not her legal guardian. I technically am, and I need her to stay here and fight. This subject is closed."
There was a long pause. Trent did not speak. He was fighting to keep his face in a neutral expression. Steve and Agent Carter both wondered if he would explode and actually start yelling at Phillips. Finally, he nodded.
"I understand, sir."
And with that, he did his best to stand back up again so that he could grab his crutches and leave the room.
Out in the corridor, Jamie quickly walked away, not wanting to be discovered, and headed off to find her private tutor. She was very hurt. How could Trent not want her to stay here with him? She knew fighting was dangerous, but didn't he understand that the only reason why she was here at all was because she wanted to help him? She couldn't help but feel somewhat insulted by him wanting her to go back home.
As she spent the rest of the day with her tutor, her tutor could sense something was not right. Jamie was acting… strange, to say the least. The teacher knew that although the little girl was generally bored by the lessons, she still paid attention and was a diligent student. Today, she was acting very quiet, and the tutor literally had to call her name several times on many occasions to snap her out of her thoughts and to pay attention to the Math lesson. Something had upset her. He wasn't sure what it was, but she was clearly upset. It wasn't his place though to ask what it was that made her upset, so he went to someone who did have the right.
When Steve came to get her as soon as her lessons were done for the day so that they could start preparing their surprise for Trent, Bucky, and a bunch of the other men they'd seen fight back at the Hydra factory, the tutor pulled him aside as she was busily packing up her schoolbooks.
"She's upset about something," the man told Steve. "I'm not sure what it is, but she's upset. She barely heard a word I said all day ever since her break."
Steve was baffled. He didn't know that she'd overheard the conversation between him, Agent Carter, Colonel Phillips, and Trent, so he had no idea why she was so upset. He asked her about it as he walked her back to her room in the base to drop off her books.
"Your tutor says you were rather quiet today," he said carefully.
"I'm quiet most days, Steve," she said back. "School's boring."
"Quieter than usual, I mean. He said you seemed upset."
"So is everything okay?"
She sighed. "I'm just upset about Trent. He's pushing me away, and I don't like it."
"Weren't we planning to talk to him, Bucky, and all those other guys from the cell blocks in the Hydra factory at that pub later? To invite them to be the members of our Hydra-Squashing team?" she interrupted. "I think we should be focusing on that right now."
Steve sighed. As much as he liked Jamie, he couldn't force her to open up to him if she didn't want to if it was about to Trent. That was technically none of his business. All he could do is try and get her to talk to Trent later on while at the pub. Whatever was going on with her, only Trent could fix. It was a matter between the two siblings.
Timothy Dugan, or as he preferred to be called by his friends, Dum Dum, took off his favorite bowler hat, and took a very long swig of his glass of scotch.
He, along with some of the other men back at the Hydra base, Gabe Jones, James Montgomery Falsworth, Jim Morita, and Jacques Dernier, were all sitting around one of the tiny wooden tables of the local pub in London, and across from them sat Steve and Jamie. It had not been easy for the group to convince the pub owner to allow Jamie inside since she was underage, but after a bribe of a hundred pound note from Steve and the promise that she would only be drinking a soda, the owner begrudgingly allowed her to enter.
Steve and Jamie were currently in the process of trying to convince the men sitting in front of them to be willing to join their elite force in stopping Hydra.
Dum Dum drained his glass, and slammed it back down on the table before he spoke.
"So, let's get this straight," he said, earning a nod from Jones.
"We barely got out of there alive, and you want us to go back?"
Jamie had the decency to look sheepish at his question, as well as a little guilty. Steve just shrugged.
"Pretty much," he said.
"If you don't want to, we understand," said Jamie. "We know it's not fair of us to ask at all, but we both saw everything all of you did while escaping from the Hydra factory. Steve and I both believe you're all the best men for our team."
Falsworth, the British member at the table, actually looked excited. "Sounds rather fun, actually," he said.
Jim, the Japanese-American, was sitting beside him, and belched rather loudly before he spoke. "I'm in," he said. He and the others all had to try hard not to laugh at the way Jamie's face was wrinkling up her tiny face at the smell of his slight burp, and was busily fanning away the scent as it drew steadily nearer to her.
Jacques, the French man that had unintentionally insulted Jamie back at the Hydra factory, began speaking rapidly in his native tongue. Jones began speaking back to him in French. After a moment of rapt conversation between the two, Jacques grinned widely and shook Jones' hand. Jones soon turned to face Steve and Jamie again.
"We're in," he said. "Although he has the additional condition that the shrimp never sass talks him again like she did back at the factory, and I want to clarify that it's him that's calling the girl the shrimp, not me."
Just like back at the Hydra factory, Jamie's cheeks turned all red and puffed up as she scowled angrily at Jacques and clenched her fists tight. Steve and the others had to fight the urge to chuckle. They were quite sure that if she had been standing when she'd heard the translation, she would've stomped her foot in anger.
"Well, you tell Mr. Frenchie that I won't sass talk him again, so long as he promises not to call me such degrading and demeaning nicknames such as pipsqueak and shrimp!" she snapped. "Tell him not to humiliate me, and we'll get along just fine!"
Jones smirked in amusement, but nonetheless translated her message. Jacques rolled his eyes but nodded. Now that he knew her a little better, even he had to admit her antics were a little funny and cute.
"Hell, I'll always fight," said Dum Dum. "But you got to do one thing for me."
"What's that?" asked Steve.
"I'll tell you what!" said Jamie, her scowl only growing on her little face. "It's smack him upside the head each time he swears! Don't swear, Timmy!"
Dum Dum laughed. "First of all, kid, nobody calls me Timmy, and secondly, you need to get used it. People are always going to swear in the military."
"I don't care!" she said firmly. "I'm not ever gonna swear! I'm gonna break people of their habit of swearing! Maybe I should start charging people a quarter every time they swear in front of me! I'll get rich and make them stop swearing at the same time! As for your name, you need to get used to that, because I'm not going to call you dumb! That's plain insulting!"
"Fine, but speaking of money, that's my condition," Dum Dum went on, a small smile on his face. "Open a tab!"
The men all laughed as Steve nodded, and collected the empty glasses scattered around the surface of the table, and began carrying them back to the bar for refills as Jamie tailed along behind him. As soon as they had delivered the drinks to their new crew, they both went over to Trent and Bucky, who were sitting off to the side at the bar as they enjoyed their own drinks, though Trent was drinking a soda like Jamie since he, too, was not twenty-one.
"Well, that was easy," they heard Dum Dum mutter quietly to the others. They all chuckled.
Jamie just nodded a bit to Trent as she sat down beside Steve at the bar. She was still a little hurt after overhearing what he had to say about her this afternoon. Steve, Bucky, and Trent were all a little puzzled by her distant behavior, but simply disregarded it.
"See? I told you," said Bucky to his lifelong friend. "They're all idiots."
Steve snickered. "How about you?" He asked. "You ready to follow Captain America and Liberty Belle into the jaws of death?"
"Swear word, Bucky!"
"Sorry," said Bucky, pausing to ruffle Jamie's pigtails before continuing. "That little guy from Brooklyn who was too dumb not to run away from a fight. I'm following him. Him and this little girl who has the guts to cross the Austrian border equipped with nothing but a torch that lights up with sparklers."
Steve smiled, and turned to look at Trent. "How about you?" he asked. After what had happened this afternoon with Trent's pleading to let Jamie be sent back home, he really didn't know what Trent would choose.
Trent paused as he thought it over.
"He's going to say no," said Jamie, her words angry and clipped as she took a drink of her glass of coke.
All three men turned to look at her.
"What makes you think I'm not going to help, sis?" asked Trent incredulously.
She folded her arms and glared at him. "The fact that you begged Steve here and Colonel Phillips earlier today to send me home and not help stop Hydra might have something to do with it!" she spat.
Bucky, the only one at the bar who had not been privy to that conversation, looked over at Steve and Trent in surprise. Steve and Trent were both staring at her, now realizing that the reason why she was acting so cold to Trent was because she'd eavesdropped on the conversation.
Steve wanted to say something to his young protégé, to reassure her that Trent had only done that because he loved her very much and was simply worried about her, but he recognized that this was not his place to get involved. This was between her and her brother. He turned to look at Trent.
Trent's eyes were wide as he stared at his little sister, shocked that she knew about that. He was biting his lower lip, seemingly contemplating something. Finally, he turned to Steve and Bucky.
"Will you two excuse us for a minute?" he asked kindly.
Steve and Bucky both nodded, and quickly left the bar to sit at a nearby table and wait out what would probably be an ugly confrontation.
As soon as they left, Trent sighed, and moved to sit in the stool directly next to Jamie. "You eavesdropped on that conversation, didn't you?"
"I figured that as a First-Class Lieutenant, I had the right to know what was going on."
"Jamie, please try and understand—"
"No! I don't understand, Trent!" she snapped, refusing to meet his gaze. "I get that you're worried about me. That I get, but you have no right to go up to Steve and Colonel Phillips and demand that I not fight! I'm Liberty Belle! I have to do what's right for all of America! And the world! I have to stay here and fight against Hydra!"
"Jamie, please let me speak. If you're still angry with me when I'm done, you can yell at me all you want, but let me explain myself first."
"Fine!" she spat, her pigtails flying about wildly as snapped her head around to look at him.
Trent paused for a moment and he considered what he wanted to say and to make her understand what he was thinking. "Jamie, you are my baby sister. The only sister I'll ever have. You'll never be able to understand how much I love you, and it's because I love you that I requested that you go back home. You're just a little girl, and you have an entire life ahead of you. I promised our Mom that I'd always keep you safe, that I'd never let anyone hurt you. I can't do that if you're constantly twirling around to dodge bullets on the battlefield as you try to hide behind Rogers' shield. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Jamie didn't smile, but she did Trent's point, and she nodded. "Well, what about my promise to Mom?" she asked. "She told me to always be kind, but more importantly, she told me to always be brave! I can't just go back home and ignore everything that's happening! Not when I have the power to help!"
Trent sighed again. "I understand, James. Really, I do. I just wish it didn't have to come to this…"
"If you want to protect me so badly, Trent, join me and Steve's team!" she pleaded. "You can protect me that way! Steve will protect my front, and you'll watch over my back!"
Trent didn't reply as he contemplated the suggestion. He just raised his glass of soda to his lips and took a long drink.
"Come on, Trent! Will you join Liberty Belle and her mentor Captain America in saving the world?"
For a long time, Trent did not say anything. When he finally answered her, his words were very firm.
"No. I will not join Liberty Belle's team."
Jamie stared. She could not believe what she'd just heard. How could he say that? How could her loving older brother say he would not help her while she was on the battlefield?
She tried to move to climb down off her stool and run away crying, but Trent grabbed her hand.
"Jamie, look at me," he ordered.
Fighting back tears, Jamie looked up at him. To her complete surprise, he was smiling kindly down at her.
"I can't join Liberty Belle's team," he went on, "because I've already decided to join my little sister Jamie Harper's team, led by her mentor Steve Rogers, and I'm not joining it to help her save the world. I'm joining to make sure she doesn't do something dumb like get herself killed."
Jamie laughed, and promptly flung her arms around his neck.
"You scared me! That was a cruel joke!"
"Hey! You know me well enough to know that I live for jokes, James! Especially cruel one's…"
Jamie just laughed, and hugged Trent even tighter.
"All right, why don't we call Bucky and Rogers back over, now. How does that sound?"
Jamie nodded, and Trent waved the two grown-ups back over.
"So, sport," said Bucky as he and Steve reclaimed their bar stools, "I take it you and Jamie made up?"
"Everything's fine now, thanks, Buck," answered Trent with a smirk. Bucky grinned, and threw a mock punch at Trent's shoulder.
"I take it you two have become rather good friends, huh?" asked Steve.
Trent shrugged. "Nothing says male bonding more than being held hostage in a Nazi factory together," he retorted.
Jamie lightly laughed.
"Hey, you two aren't keeping the outfits, right?" asked Bucky suddenly, jerking his thumb over his shoulder at the poster of Steve and Jamie in their Captain America and Liberty Belle costumes which had been put up to promote their previously planned tour across Europe. The Steve on the poster was holding his shield in one hand, and saluting poster onlookers with the other. At his side stood Jamie, with one hand on her hip, and the other holding her torch up high over her head. Across the entire expanse of the poster, a large sign had been stamped across it with the following words written upon it: 'Tour Cancelled Until Further Notice.'
"You know what?" said Steve, pausing a moment so as to take a swig of his drink. "It's kind of growing on me."
"I've already decided I'm keeping mine," Jamie declared. "I look cute in it! And I love have a secret identity!"
Trent chuckled and wrapped his arm around Jamie's shoulder.
"You most certainly do look cute in your Liberty Belle dress, Jamie… You most certainly do…"
Jamie beamed happily up at her brother, and opened her mouth to say more, when the soldiers who'd been singing loud, out of tune songs by the nearby piano suddenly went quiet, and a hushed silence fell over the entire pub. The quartet turned around in their stools.
Agent Carter had just entered the dingy pub, dressed in a splendid red dress that greatly accentuated her womanly figure. Her presence immediately seemed to light up Steve's entire face, Jamie noticed. The careless smile he'd had just chatting with her, Steve, and Bucky was gone, and replaced with a smile that was both warm and welcoming to the newest patron. He nodded kindly to her as she approached their group, and all four of them rose to their feet.
"Captain, Lieutenant," she greeted pleasantly.
"Agent Carter," said Steve, nodding to her again.
"Ma'am," said Bucky, nodding politely.
"Hello, again," said Trent.
"Hi, Agent Carter!" Jamie said brightly. "It's nice to see you outside the base for once!"
Agent Carter smiled, filled with genuine warmth at Jamie's words. "You as well," she replied, gently patting her shoulder. Jamie giggled, and Agent Carter's smile only grew. She really Jamie. She was such a sweet and innocent little girl. It was hard to believe that this girl standing before her was not only a First-Class Lieutenant, but also the same little girl that had infiltrated a Hydra factory and, with Steve's help, freed over four hundred men from certain death. After one last smile to the little girl, she turned her attention back up at Steve.
"Howard has some equipment for you and Jamie to both try. Tomorrow morning?" she asked.
Steve nodded. "Sounds good," he agreed.
Agent Carter then looked expectantly down at Jamie.
"That's fine," said Jamie.
Agent Carter nodded, and then glanced over in the direction of the rest of their team as they continued belting out bar songs as they all chugged down their glasses of scotch and whiskey.
"I see your top squad is prepping for duty," she noted.
Bucky couldn't resist the opportunity. He flashed her a charming smile. "You don't like music?" he asked.
"I do, actually," she said, but did not meet Bucky's eyes. She was looking only at Steve as she spoke. "I might even, when this is all over, go dancing."
"Then what are we waiting for?" said Bucky, trying to flirt once again.
Agent Carter smiled. "The right partner," she said. She paused, then added, "0800, Captain, Lieutenant," before leaving the bar without another word.
"Yes, ma'am," Steve called out after her.
"We'll be there!" Jamie added.
Bucky frowned. "I'm invisible," he grumbled to Steve. "I'm turning into you. It's like a horrible dream."
"Don't take it so hard," Steve advised, chuckling as he patted his best friend on the back. "Maybe she's got a friend."
Jamie tilted her head to the side in confusion. As the four of them walked back over to their seats at the bar, she lightly tugged on Trent's hand to get his attention.
"Are all adult relationships always so complicated?" she whispered.
Trent just laughed as they sat down, and patted his sister on the head.
"Believe me, James," he said as he lifted his glass. "Give it a couple more years, and you'll know just how complicated they can be."
The next morning, Jamie was given permission to skip her morning lessons with her tutor, and accompanied Steve back to the main room of the base with Pannie tucked under one of her arms.
"What do you think Howie wants for us to test?" she innocently asked as they entered the main room.
"Peggy mentioned something about it being some equipment, so I'm guess that. Other than that, I don't know," he answered as they maneuvered their way around people working in the main room. They approached the blonde secretary on duty at the main desk, her nose buried in this morning's edition of the paper, and Steve cleared his throat to get her attention. "Excuse me," he said. "We're looking for Mr. Stark."
"He's in with Colonel Phillips," she replied monotonously, not even bothering to look up from the article she was reading as she spoke.
Steve and Jamie both nodded, and moved to stand off to the side and get out of the way. The blonde looked up at them for half-a-second before glancing back down at the newspaper. It took her a second to register who it was standing in front of her, and her head shot back up again.
"Of course," she added, her tone much more friendly this time. "You're welcome to wait."
Steve nodded slightly, but Jamie stared at the woman, a tiny bit puzzled. Steve hadn't seemed to notice, but she had. The woman had been looking directly at Steve when she spoke, and didn't even really acknowledge Jamie at all.
The woman smiled as she turned in her seat, and showed them the front-page article of the newspaper: Four Hundred Prisoners Liberated.
"I… uh… I read about what you did," she went on, her voice still honey-coated and her eyes still only on Steve as she spoke.
Jamie frowned, but Steve was much too friendly for his own good, and both missed the strange tone in the woman's voice, and the fact that the secretary was only speaking to him and not Jamie at all as he nodded modestly at the article.
"Oh, the… Yeah. Well, that's… you know…"
"We did what needed to be done," said Jamie, clutching her panda bear tightly. She was experimenting. She wanted to see if the blonde secretary would look at her if she were to speak up.
"Sounded like more than that. You saved nearly four hundred men," the woman said. As Jamie had guessed, the woman still didn't look at her at all. She was speaking directly to Steve.
This time, Steve picked up on it. "Uh, really, it's not a big deal," he said awkwardly.
The secretary smirked seductively as she got to her feet. "Tell that to their wives."
She crossed the short distance between herself and Steve. Steve was looking rather uncomfortable now.
Jamie was shrinking away. She was starting to feel more than a bit embarrassed, although she didn't really understand why. All she knew for sure was that she wished the woman would stop talking in that weird tone and would break her eye contact with Steve. If she did that, maybe this weird moment would end, and she wouldn't feel like such a third wheel in this situation.
"Um…" said Steve, crossing his arms across his chest self-consciously. "I-I-I don't think they were all married…"
"M-ma'am?" Jamie mumbled weakly. "W-what're you—?"
"Hush, honey," said the secretary, glancing down momentarily at Jamie as she placed one of her well manicured fingers to Jamie's lips. "The adults are talking."
Jamie was too embarrassed and confused to say anything back, so the secretary took her silence as affirmation that she'd stay quiet, and then looked back up at Steve.
"You're a hero."
Steve blushed very hard. "W-well, that depends on the definition, really…"
He was cut off when the secretary lightly tugged on the tie of his uniform.
"The women of America, they owe you their thanks," she whispered. She lightly dragged him by his tie back to the slightly concealed area right next to her desk. "And," she added huskily, "seeing as they're not here…"
She smirked, and promptly yanked Steve's tie to force him another inch closer to her, and then forced her lips onto his.
Jamie's jaw dropped as Pannie slid from her fingers and fell to the ground. She was beyond shocked. She wanted to say something — anything — right then, but she was too stunned to speak. She could not believe what she was witnessing.
Agent Carter was just coming over to call for Steve and Jamie when she saw Jamie standing all alone in front of the secretary's deserted desk, and staring into the enclosure between the desk and a set of filing cabinets in stunned silence with her mouth hanging open and her stuffed bear at her feet. Curious, she stepped closer to the girl to see what had her so shocked.
Her heart clenched when she saw Steve kissing the secretary.
"Captain!" she barked.
Steve abruptly jumped away from the secretary, and Jamie snapped out of her shock and scrambled to pick up Pannie before looking up at her.
"We're ready for you and Jamie, if you're not otherwise occupied," she said shortly.
She marched away.
Steve quickly ran after her, and Jamie, not wanting to be anywhere near the secretary after what had just happened, sprinted after him.
"Agent Carter, wait!" said Steve desperately.
Agent Carter didn't look at him as she continued walking.
"Looks like finding a partner wasn't that hard at all."
"Peggy, that's not what you thought it was."
"I don't think anything, Captain, not one thing," she replied. "Though I'm willing to bet that Jamie might be thinking otherwise…"
Steve chanced a look behind him at his young protégé. She was pink in the face, and holding her hands out in front of her in a silent plea to be considered exempt from this discussion. She just wanted to stay an innocent bystander, even though she truly didn't understand at all why the secretary had just kissed him. Up until today, Steve had never spoken to the woman. At least as far as she knew of.
"You always wanted to be a soldier," Agent Carter went on, "and now you are, just like all the rest."
"Well, what about you and Stark?" Steve called out in a desperate attempt of making peace. "How do I know you two haven't been… fondue-ing?"
Jamie perked up slightly at these words, recalling her previous confusion on the subject back on the plane ride to the Hydra factory. Just like back then, the statement puzzled her, but unlike then, she did not ask what it was. She did not want to get involved in this.
Agent Carter just turned slightly and glanced at Steve over her shoulder. She stared at him for a moment, but then shook her head in baffled incredulousness.
"You still don't know a bloody thing about women," she muttered as she walked away.
Steve and Jamie stared after her for several moments.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that could've gone better," Jamie said after a long time.
Steve didn't answer her.
"Captain," she asked, gazing up at him. "What does fondue-ing mean?"
Again, Steve didn't answer her, but this time it was because he wasn't sure himself. After what had just transpired between him and Agent Carter, he was pretty sure that what he'd thought it meant hadn't been right.
"Nothing," he said finally. He took hold of one of her hands. "Come on. Stark's waiting for us."
Jamie blinked as he dragged her along behind him as he searched for Howard. She didn't understand. Why was Steve acting all quiet all the sudden? She understood that he was somewhat embarrassed about what had happened between him, Agent Carter, and that secretary, but that was as far as her understanding went. She didn't get why the secretary had just abruptly kissed him, nor did she understand what the big deal was about the word fondue. Steve seemed to be embarrassed about it, and Agent Carter had been annoyed when he brought it up.
What was the big deal? What did it mean? Was it some kind of kissy stuff?
Howard was in the next room, and nodded to them when he saw them enter.
"Morning," he greeted. "Sleep well?"
"Fine," said Steve off-handedly. His thoughts were still reeling from the entire ordeal involving that secretary.
"Good," said Jamie. She paused for a moment, but then continued speaking. "Howie, before you start showing us the equipment, can I ask you a question?"
"What is fondue?"
Steve turned bright red and looked mortified, but Howard just nonchalantly shrugged.
"Fondue is just cheese and bread, my friend."
Steve's eyebrows shot up. Jamie just looked even more confused.
"What? Seriously?" she asked. Seeing Howard's nod, she turned to look up at Steve. "If that's all that fondue is, why didn't you tell me, Steve? And I get you were still in shock over that incident with the secretary, but why did you ask Agent Carter whether or not she and Howie have been fondue-ing? It's not like it's kissy stuff or anything."
Steve's face just turned redder. Howard raised a brow, looking very amused.
"The incident with the secretary?"
"Don't ask," said Steve, pinching the bridge of his nose while ignoring Jamie's innocent question. "Seriously, do not ask. Anyway, I-I-I didn't think—"
"Nor should you, pal," said Howard, turning back around and motioning for Steve and Jamie to follow him over to two tables off to the side. "The moment you think you know what's going on in a woman's head is the moment your goose is well and truly cooked."
"Hey! I resent that!" Jamie pouted, clutching Pannie tightly as she spoke.
"My apologies," said Howard, pausing momentarily to ruffle her hair before glancing back up at Steve. "Me, I concentrate on work, which at the moment is about making sure you two and your men do not killed."
He showed them the first table. Lying stretched out across it were new variations of their Captain America and Liberty Belle uniforms. They both were still red, white, and blue and Jamie's was still a dress, but unlike the outfits they'd worn during their tour, which had been designed for showbiz purposes and would shine in the light, these new costumes were made for practicality on the battlefield. They were made of a somewhat thicker material, and they each contained a series of pockets connected to them, and had a couple of holsters each.
"They're both made of the same material. Carbon polymer," Howard explained, gently patting the Captain America uniform as he spoke. "Should withstand your average German bayonet. Although, Hydra's not going to attack you guys with pocket knives."
"Is it stretchy?" Jamie asked, running one of her hands over her new Liberty Belle dress. "If it's not, I won't be able to twirl away from bullets. And are the holsters really necessary? I already explained to Steve that I'm not planning to kill anyone while out on the battlefield. Just knock 'em out."
Howard paused at that revelation and turned to Steve. Steve was frowning.
"Jamie," he began. "When you're out on the battlefield, you might not have a choice. Sometimes it's kill or be killed."
"That may be your motto, Steve, but it's not mine," she declared. Unlike her usually careless and childish statements, Jamie's voice this time was very firm. "I'm going to go out there and be Liberty Belle. I'm going to fight. But I'm not going to kill anybody. You can't dissuade me from this. I have a no-killing code. That's my motto, and I'm sticking to it."
Steve sighed. He didn't like the idea of trying to convince a little girl that killing is all right, but he'd worry about it later. Right now, Howard was still waiting patiently to keep showing them their equipment. He turned and nodded to Howard to continue the presentation.
Howard nodded himself in reply, and moved towards their showbiz shield and torch.
"I hear you're both kind of attached?" he asked, tapping the shield.
"It's handier than you might think," said Steve.
"Mine makes a good weapon!" Jamie explained.
Howard shrugged, and moved over to the second table. Every inch of this table was covered in various types of large metallic shields and a series of small metal torches. Each one of the shields and torches looked very strong and durable.
"I took the liberty of coming up with some options," Howard went on. "And Jamie? Each of these torches has that same button on the side like your other torch did that emitted the sparklers. But unlike your stage torch, these one's will allow you to shoot out actual fire. Click the button once, and they'll spit out fireballs, but press down and hold, and you'll have a flaming sword."
Jamie nodded to show she understood the slightly different design concept, and began wandering down along the base of the table, periodically picking one of the torches up and testing the weight and balance. The majority of them were rather heavy, and she couldn't afford to tug a heavy rod with her onto the battlefield. She needed her torch to be light enough for her to carry, but still durable enough for her to use when whacking the backs of the heads of Hydra agents.
As she looked around, Steve was checking out the various types of shields.
"This one's fun," Howard told him as he pointed out a square shield. But Steve wasn't listening. He had just spied what looked like a large, circular shield and a tiny metal torch lying underneath the table. "She's been fitted with electrical relays that allow you to—"
"What about these?" he asked, reaching down under the table to grab the shield and torch. "J.J., come take a look."
"No, no," said Howard quickly as Jamie walked over and examined the torch. "Those're just prototypes."
The two super-soldiers ignored him. The shield was rather thin and had two leather straps in the back for Steve to put his arm through, but was large and surprisingly light as well, weighing a little over ten pounds all together. The torch was a bit smaller than the other torches Howard had put out on display, but definitely much lighter than them at the time, weighing approximately the same amount as the shield. It was a compact thing, and it could fit perfectly in Jamie's tiny hand, but at the time it was very durable, and Jamie had a feeling that if she were to bash the blunt end of it against someone's skull, their head would crack open.
"What're these made of?" she asked, gently sweeping the torch through the air so as to test the balance of it.
"Vibranium," Howard answered. "It's stronger than steel, and a third of the weight. It's completely vibration absorbent, and can withstand temperatures of up to five hundred degrees."
"I like the feel of it," Jamie exclaimed, tossing the torch from one hand to the other.
"How come they're not standard issues?" asked Steve.
"That's the rarest metal on earth," Howard explained. "What you two're holding there, that's all we got."
"I wanna test out the flames," said Jamie, looking up at Howard eagerly. "Can I?"
"All right, but aim for Steve's shield," he advised, nodding to Steve so he can hold the shield up. "We don't want anything catching on fire in here."
Jamie nodded, and set Pannie on top of the table before backing away several paces from Steve. She drew a deep breath, and aimed her torch readily at the metal shield in Steve's arm with both hands before clicking the button once. Instantly, a great, giant fireball erupted from her torch and went flying towards the shield. It died harmlessly upon hitting it.
"Awesome!" she exclaimed. "Okay, now everyone stand back! I wanna see this flaming sword thing!"
Steve and Howard nodded, and both backed away. She clicked and held down the button. A large flame shot out from the torch and hovered there. Very carefully, Jamie moved the torch no more than an inch to the right. The flames trailed along in time with the torch. She moved it to the left. The flames followed.
"This thing rocks!" she said excitedly, letting go of the button. The flames died away, and she picked up Pannie and gave him a big hug.
Steve and Howard both chuckled. "Glad you think so, kid," said Howard.
"I just have one question, Howie!"
"You know how much I like flying! Do you think maybe you could install some sort of mechanics into my boots so I can fly?! Pretty please?!"
Howard laughed. "Sorry, Jamie, but you saw what happened at the Expo a while back. My hover technology isn't quite up to par to do that just yet."
"Aww…" she said, a frown stretching across her lips.
At that moment, Agent Carter entered the room. Her face was still stern over the events that had transpired earlier.
"Are you quite finished Mr. Stark?" she asked, her voice cold. "I'm sure the Captain has some unfinished business."
Yeah. She was definitely still angry.
"Agent Carter! Look! Look at my new torch!" said Jamie, running up and showing the young woman her new vibranium torch. "Look at it! Isn't it cool?"
"Very cool," she agreed, her voice still a little stern, but she did smile to Jamie. What happened earlier had nothing to do with her. She had just witnessed the kiss. Her qualms were not with the little girl.
Steve raised the round shield on his arm and showed it to Agent Carter. He really wanted her opinion on it.
"What do you think?" he asked her.
Agent Carter seemed to consider him for a moment. Steve gulped. He knew she was still mad, but he was trying to make peace. Surely she could understand that. Right?
Agent Carter, turned, selected a small pistol on the table beside her, and raised it up at Steve. Steve, horrified, held his shield out defensively in front of him as she fired the gun four times in rapid succession. The bullets bounced off the shield, falling harmlessly to the ground as they left four dents in the smooth metal.
Silence filled the room as people who'd ducked for cover from the crazy woman slowly looked up again, slowly coming back to their senses. Jamie squeezed Pannie tightly as she stared up at Agent Carter, her eyes wide and her jaw dropped. She had just tried to kill her mentor. She knew she was mad about what had happened between Steve and that secretary, but this was starting to get out of hand.
"Yes," said Agent Carter pleasantly, setting the gun back down on the table. "I think it works."
She started to walk away. Jamie wouldn't stand for that. She had to make Agent Carter understand the truth of what had happened between Steve and that other woman. Surely Agent Carter would listen to her. She'd been standing there and witnessed the entire thing. She could vouch for Steve.
"Agent Carter! Wait!" she said, quickly running up to her.
The woman stopped and turned to the little girl.
"Yes, Jamie?" she said, a little too amiably and with a very fixed smile.
"I just wanted to tell you that you can stop being so mad at Steve, and you want to know why? Because I'm a reliable witness to what happened! That secretary jumped Steve and kissed him. Steve didn't kiss her. She kissed him! Not the other way around!" She wagged her finger. "So you can go back to liking him and thinking he's an honorable man, okay? I know he likes you! So don't try to shoot him again, okay? Okay! Bye-bye!"
With having said that, she set the torch down on the table, smiled cheerily to a very much still-in-shock Steve, and skipped out of the room with Pannie under her arm.
For a long time, Agent Carter stared after her, blinking at what Jamie had just told her, and feeling very, very ashamed of her previous actions.
Steve stood rigid in shock, and his entire face was on fire. He knew had meant well by saying what she had, and he appreciated it, but damn it all! He'd never been so embarrassed in his entire life.
Howard had to raise a hand to his mouth to try and hide a snicker.
Slowly, with a neutral expression, Agent Carter turned to face Steve and Howard, and nodded to them.
"Gentlemen," she said tonelessly and in farewell before walking swiftly away from the scene with as much dignity as she could muster.
Steve stared after her. He was beyond mortified by what Jamie's attempt of a sweet gesture had done.
As Howard continued to try and hide his laughter, Steve reached into the inner pocket of his jacket pocket, and pulled out a sheet of paper. Without looking away from Agent Carter's retreating form, he handed it over to the engineer.
"Jamie and I had some ideas about the uniform," he said quietly.
"Whatever you want, pal," said Howard, a snicker still heard in his voice.
As soon as Trent's leg was healed well enough for him to return to the battlefield, Captain America and Liberty Belle, along with the rest of their squad, which had been given the codename, the Howling Commandos, set off on their conquest to find and destroy each and every last Hydra base in all of Europe. It was almost too easy for Steve, Jamie, and the rest of the team to infiltrate and destroy the Hydra factories. While Bucky and Trent would lead the rest of the team in collecting information from the bases, Steve and Jamie would take on the mass majority of the Hydra soldiers.
They were no longer the Unlikely Duo. They worked together flawlessly. They were the Dynamic Duo, now. With the help of their upgraded uniforms, torch, and shield, Captain America and Liberty Belle were fighting better than ever before, and after each raid, they would often be seen together riding a motorcycle as they escaped the burning fortresses. The Captain would be driving the fight while Liberty rode in its attached sidecar, shooting out fiery fireballs at Hydra agents if they dared to follow them.
Steve's new shield, which had been painted to match his uniform in a red, white, and blue stripe pattern and a five-pointed white star in the exact center, was now acting almost like a weapon for him now. He could throw it and stun many Hydra enemies at once with one swing, and it often had a boomerang-like return effect. Upon throwing it most of the time at enemies, it would ricochet right back to his hand, allowing him to throw it around and not worry about having to retrieve it after.
Jamie's new torch, now painted silver, made her just as deadly, and it allowed her to conquer her foes very easily. If there were only a handful of enemies around, she would either click the button on her torch rapidly several times and spit out huge fireballs to defeat them or fight hand-to-hand with the guards and whack them on the back of the head with the blunt end of her new weapon, but if she and Steve ended up getting surrounded, she would make her torch turn into a flaming sword, and in the process of forcing them to stay back when waving the flames around, would occasionally burn the faces of the Hydra guards.
Their new iconic weapons weren't the only things new about Dynamic Duo now, though. In between the raids, the two were now receiving proper training in how to fight hand-to-hand. In addition now to their boxing skills, they now were quite proficient in having learned Judo, Jiu-jitsu, Taekwondo, and Akido, some of which styles were taught to them by higher-ranking army veterans, while other fighting styles the other members of the Howling Commandos were kind enough to instruct them in.
Speaking of learning from the Howling Commandos, Gabe Jones had additionally started teaching both Steve and Jamie how to speak French so they could communicate with Jacques and thereby stop having to ask him to translate everything, though Steve and the others all secretly believed that it was really so he wouldn't have to be the middleman in between Jamie and Jacques when the two of them bantered.
Jacques now had nothing against Jamie after what he'd seen her do that day when she and Steve rescued him from captivity, but he immensely enjoyed teasing her about her tiny size for kicks, and they made Jamie quite angry. She would yell and snap back Jacques, all while forcing Jones to translate for her. Jones, just like all the other men in the squad, knew that Jacques was only teasing her to get a rise out of her and meant no ill by it. He actually found the fights between the two of them quite comical, but he also didn't want to be involved in it, which was why he now joined her private tutor in her lessons.
Jamie didn't mind. As much as Jacques got under her skin, she was unable to stop being annoyed with him, and although she kept yelling at him, she really did feel bad about forcing Jones to translate their conversations back and forth.
They also were given guns of their own to carry on their persons' at all times. Although Jamie carried it in its protective holster on the waist of her dress, she had never once used it, no matter what Steve, Trent, or any of the other Howling Commandos said to try and convince her otherwise. She was quite firm on the decision that although she may be forced to have it, that didn't mean she had to use it. She would not use it. She would not take a human life. No matter what the circumstance was. While everyone else in the squad, including Steve, took the lives of the Hydra soldiers all the time, she would only knock them out or severely injure them. She would not kill any of them with either her pistol, or her torch. She would not do it.
Soon, the last days of November faded away, and December arrived. And all too soon, it was Christmas Eve.
"Are you excited, Jamie?" Trent asked her on the afternoon of Christmas Eve Day. Due to the holidays, the team had been given the clear by Colonel Phillips to take today and tomorrow off. "Santa Claus is gonna come tonight. Have you been a good little girl this year?"
To his and many other people surprise at the base, Jamie shook her head so hard, her little pigtails slapped either end of her face.
"I don't think Santa's going to come, Trent," she told him.
Steve, Bucky, the rest of the Howling Commandos, Howard, and Agent Carter watched with apprehension as Trent was momentarily stunned by the little girl's proclamation. Even Colonel Phillips brows had risen in surprise. She was the type of little kid they all had assumed would still believe in jolly old Saint Nick.
"What makes you say that?" said Trent after a few moments.
To everyone's surprise, Jamie looked very sad for a second, and then began pouting as she answered. "Well, for starters, we don't have a Christmas tree! And no milk and cookies! And what's worse, we're in London right now! Santa won't know to find me here to bring me my presents! And even if he did, there's no chimney! He'd have to land on the street and come into the base through the front door! The guards wouldn't let him in! They'd probably think he was a Hydra spy in disguise!"
There was a long silence after she said all this. And then everyone in the room began laughing. Jamie became quite indignant at their response to her concerns.
"It's not funny!" she said, very mad. "Do any of you know how upset I am knowing that Santa won't be coming because of all these reasons?!"
She looked like she was about to cry.
Seeing her face, Trent managed to force himself to stop laughing. "We're sorry, sis," he replied, bending down a bit and patting her shoulder as he spoke. "It's just… you're too cute sometimes."
"What did I say that was so cute?! Again, what I said was real concerns! Santa's probably not gonna come!"
Trent smiled, and looked over his shoulder at everyone else. Everyone caught wind of the twinkle in his eyes, and knew what he was silently asking. Seeing them all discreetly nod, he turned back to face his little sister.
"Well, we're just gonna make sure he does come then, won't we?"
Jamie looked up at him, puzzled. "Huh?"
"Go get your coat. You and me are going to go buy ourselves a Christmas tree."
And sure enough, less than two hours later, she and Trent returned to the base, working together to carry a pine tree inside after scourging the nearby lot that was selling trees. Jamie was beaming from ear-to-ear as she and Trent set the tiny tree down in the exact center of the main room of the base.
While they were out, Steve and Bucky had gone out to purchase a set of cheap ornament balls and a star, and a couple of the Howling Commandos went to the nearest convenience store and bought a gallon of milk and a couple boxes of cookies.
"We're gonna decorate this tree!" Trent told his sister, making her entire face light up with joy. "We're gonna make this damn tree so nice, Santa will have to show up!"
"Swear word, Trent!" Jamie chastised, but she did not dare hit him right then. Instead, she laughed and tackled him in a great big hug.
Working together, she, Trent, Steve, Bucky, the other members of the Howling Commandos, and even Agent Carter and Howard worked together to fix up the impromptu Christmas tree. Colonel Phillips, to the surprise of many of the others, did not say anything while they did this, but he watched the entire scene with a small, barely noticeable smile on his face. By the time almost all the decorating was complete, it was dark, and snow could be seen through the windows of the base, lightly falling down upon the paved brick streets of London.
"All that's left now is the star!" Jamie said excitedly, holding the golden tree topper in her hands as she bounced up and down.
"And you're the one who'll be putting it on," said Steve. He lifted his spritely ten-year-old protégé up by her waist, and held her up near the top of the tree. She laughed with delight as she placed the star at the very top of the tree.
Agent Carter brought out a plate and an empty glass, and people couldn't help but smile as they watched Jamie eagerly pour the milk into the glass, and carefully arrange the cookies on the plate.
"There! Now that we've got a tree — a very nice tree, too, considering it was thrown together in less than five hours — and we've put out the milk and cookies, I think Santa will definitely be showing up. Don't you?"
"But what about the guards at the entrance?" Jamie asked Trent worriedly. "Won't they try and stop Santa from coming in to leave the presents? And what about the fact we're in London? He'll looking for me back in Brooklyn!"
Trent just smirked, and glanced over his shoulder at the Howling Commandos. "Oi! Falsworth! Will you be kind enough to tell the guards at the entrance that if they catch a big, jolly old man dressed in red and carrying a sack of toys over his shoulder trying to come inside tonight, to just let him be and not try and kill him on sight?"
Falsworth grinned. "Right away, Yankee boy!" said the Brit, and he left the room.
As soon as he was gone, Trent looked back down at Jamie, and began ruffling her hair. "Now, sis. Answer me this: Do you believe that Santa Claus can do anything?"
"Why, then, do you not believe that he wouldn't know that you're currently living in London?"
Jamie blinked at him. For a moment, everyone worried that she would not believe the question Trent had proposed just proposed to her, but then she smiled.
"You mean he knows that I'm Liberty Belle, and that I'm living in London right now?!" she asked eagerly, hope flooding across her face.
"He's Santa, sis, and Santa knows everything about every little boy and girl in the world."
"Then I guess I don't have anything to fear! He'll come for sure!"
"Actually, there is one thing that might keep old Kris Kringle from coming…"
"What?! What is it?!"
"You," said Trent teasingly, gently tapping the tip of her nose with his finger. "You, missy, are not asleep."
"Aww, but Trent—"
"No buts. It's already past nine o'clock. For all we know, Santa might come any minute, and if he sees that you're not asleep… Why, he might just fly over the base without stopping."
"Exactly, that's why I suggest you go to your room, change into your pajamas, cuddle up with Pannie, and go to sleep."
"All right. Goodnight everybody! See you in the morning! Merry Christmas!"
It was impossible for her to have run any faster out of the room.
As soon as everyone was sure she was gone and out of earshot, Trent turned and faced everyone.
"Thank you all for helping me," he said appreciatively. "I doubt any of you can understand how much this meant to Jamie. Christmas was always a big deal in our house."
"Hey, no problem, sport," said Bucky, thumping him on the back.
Trent smiled. "Again, thank you. Now, if you all don't mind, a certain elf told me that old Saint Nick just may have left a couple presents for my sister hiding under my bed."
"Do you mind if I put my presents for Jamie under the tree, too?"
Trent looked over at Steve and blinked. "You got Jamie some presents?"
"Just two, one of which I intend to write off as a gift from Santa. Do you mind if I put them under the tree?"
Trent shook his head. "No, of course not, Rogers. Go ahead. And thank you in advance. I don't know what you may have gotten her, but really, thanks. I only had so much money to buy her just a handful of gifts, so if you got her some stuff, too, thank you very much. This Christmas may be small, but it'll make it even better for her."
"You got it," said Steve with a smile.
Early the next morning once everyone was up, Jamie ran to the tree while still in her pajamas and Pannie tucked under the crook of her arm. There weren't many presents under the tree, but there were presents. Jamie didn't care about the quantity. She just squealed loudly over the fact that Santa Claus had definitely visited the base and left presents at all.
"Look, Trent! Look!" she squealed excitedly as she bounced up and down and tugged on her older brother's arm. "You were right! Santa came! Just like you said he would!"
"I told you, didn't I? Have I ever been wrong, before?"
Jamie shook her head, and then ran and sat down at the base of the tree to unwrap her presents.
Trent pulled up a chair and sat down to watch her, as did Steve. He wanted to know if his protégé liked his gifts. The others adults discreetly stood around to watch. They didn't have to, but they wanted to. Jamie had slowly warmed the hearts of every military personnel on the base, what with her cheery little smile and happy-go-lucky personality. She was a special little girl, the kind that people once they got to know her a little better had immediately come to love. To see her looking so excited about opening her Christmas presents brought warmth to their hearts. With the war raging on, they'd all forgotten what simple human innocence looked like.
Jamie Elizabeth Harper brought just a touch of childhood innocence with her no matter where she went. It was just who she was as a person.
She squealed as she unwrapped the presents that Trent had labeled were from Santa. From 'Santa,' she received a pretty blue and white check dress similar to what Judy Garland had worn in The Wizard of Oz movie, and a knockoff pair of the ruby slippers to go with it.
"Santa brought me Dorothy's dress and a pair of ruby slippers!" she cheered as she bounced up and down as she held the dress up against her tiny body and slipped both her feet into the red shoes. "The dress is so, so pretty! I can't wait to try it on later! And the shoes! I'm gonna look just like Dorothy when I put the dress on with them!"
The others glanced over at Trent. He was smiling as he watched the obvious joy on his little sister's face.
"I'm glad you like it, James, but what about my present? You haven't opened that, yet."
She set the dress and the shoes aside, and turned to open the only gift under the tree that Trent had listed as his own. It was a pretty box, and wrapped in pretty red wrapping paper with a green bow. Jamie untied the bow, tore away the wrapping paper, and lifted the lid of the box. Inside was—
"A little stuffed kitty!" Jamie squealed as she lifted a black stuffed cat about the same size as her panda plush doll out of the box. She hugged the new plush toy tightly, and then ran across the room to hug her brother. "Thank you, Trent! Thank you! She's so cute!"
"Oh, it's a 'she,' is it?" he asked teasingly.
"Of course she is! Just look at her! She's way too cute to be a boy kitty!"
"What are you going to name her?" asked Agent Carter, her smile stretched wide across her face as she watched the touching scene.
Jamie broke away from Trent and thought hard. After a moment, she looked back up at her.
"Gigi!" she proclaimed.
"Gigi?" asked a baffled Jones. "You know that that's a French name. I'd've thought you'd want little to do with France as possible, considering how much you really don't like Jacques."
"First of all, Gabe, I don't hate the French or Jacques! I just don't like the way he's always calling me short! That's degrading! And I happen to like the name Gigi! It's cute!"
She looked away from Jones, and down at Pannie. She held the panda in one hand, and her new cat Gigi in the other. "You hear that, Pannie? This is Gigi! She's gonna be our new playmate from now on! Isn't that wonderful?"
Everyone laughed as she hugged both of the toys to her chest.
"There's still two presents left, Jamie," said Trent. "You still have to unwrap those."
Steve sat up a bit straighter in his chair as Jamie sat back down on the floor and reached for the presents. By mere chance, the two presents left were from him.
She selected the present that he'd written was for her from Santa. It was a very tiny box. Only just bigger than for her to be able to hold it completely in the palm of her hand.
"Tiny," Jamie murmured, bringing the box to her ear and shaking it a bit. Whatever was inside rattled around a bit. "Santa left a really tiny gift…"
"Open it," said Steve with a smile. "See what he got you."
With a perplexed look, she nodded, and tore away the wrappings on the tiny package and opened the box. Her eyes widened when she held up the boxes contents for everyone in the room to see.
People stared, bewildered, at the roll of tape in her little hand.
"Tape?" asked Trent, completely confused.
"Tape…" Jamie repeated, a wonderstruck expression on her face as she realized what this meant. "Tape!"
She dropped the roll of tape and ran from the room as fast as she could.
As soon as she was gone, everyone turned to Steve.
"You got James a roll of tape?"
Steve smiled. "For a reason," he said.
He didn't get a chance to say anything else, because at that moment, Jamie ran back into the room, and in her hands was her paperback copy of The Wizard of Oz, along with its ripped out page.
Trent stared, horrified, at the damage done to the book.
"Jamie!" he said in shock. "What have you done?! That book belonged to Mom when she was a kid! Did that mean so little to you that you went ahead and ripped a page out of her book?!"
"I didn't rip it!" she insisted. "It wasn't my fault! The kids back at the orphanage did it months ago! I've been meaning to tape it back together for ages, but I've just never had the time! But Santa knew! He brought me the tape so I can fix Mom's book!"
As she opened the book and put the ripped out page back in its place and began taping it back together, Trent turned to Steve. He was completely blown away by what Steve had done for her, and that he was not taking credit for it. He was letting her believe that Santa Claus had done this. Steve was most definitely a good man.
"Thank you," he whispered so Jamie wouldn't hear.
Steve didn't verbally reply, but he did smile briefly to Trent before turning to look down at Jamie. She had just finished taping it back together, and was holding it lovingly against her chest. She was so, so happy.
"One present left, J.J.," Steve called out. "My present."
Jamie looked up in surprise. "Really, Steve? You got me a present?"
"'Course I did. You got me a cake and a present on my birthday. Getting you a Christmas present was the least I could do in return."
Jamie smiled, and seized the last present under the tree. It was a small, thinly shaped square parcel. She tore apart the wrapping paper and stared at the revealed gift.
In her hands was a hardcover edition of J.M. Barrie's children's novel. Peter Pan.
"You're always talking about how much you want to fly someday. I thought you might like it. I don't know if you own it or read it yet, but I figured—"
Steve was cut off when Jamie promptly bounded across the room, and almost knocked him out of his chair when she tackled him in a great bit hug.
"Thank you, Steve!" she said, wrapping her arms as tight as she could around his neck. "Thank you! Thank you! I've always wanted to read Peter Pan! I've always wanted to read it! So, thank you! Thank you!"
Steve was momentarily stunned as he realized that this was actually the very first time that Jamie had hugged him. Sure, she climbed up on his back sometimes during missions, and he on occasion carried her around, but she'd never hugged him before, nor had he ever initiated a hug. He always showed her affection by either patting her head or shoulders, or ruffling her hair. Never before had she hugged him, but he was surprised by how much he was enjoying it.
With a soft smile, he gently wrapped his arms around his little protégé, and hugged her back.
"You're welcome. Merry Christmas, Jamie."
"Merry Christmas, Steve!"